Samsung’s TouchWiz custom user interface that runs on top of Android is now so popular that you’d be forgiven to think that’s the way Google designed its platform to look. It's not - the stock version of Android differs hugely from TouchWiz - but did you know that Samsung’s custom skin has also evolved hugely in the past more than four years?
TouchWiz first debuted on the original Samsung Galaxy S
in 2010. This very first mass-adopted version had already undergone prior development and launched as TouchWiz 3.0. Interestingly, it then ran on Android 2.1 Eclair, and later on - Android 2.2 Froyo.
Then, the Galaxy S II
arrived bringing an hugely-redesigned TouchWiz 4.0, the first version of the skin to support hardware acceleration. It was this exact version that first started adding those typical for Samsung fancy (but often times gimmicky as well) gestures and motions. On the Galaxy S II, you could place two fingers on the display and tilt it in and out to zoom in and out in images for instance.
The following Samsung Galaxy S III
brought even more such features in the completely refashioned TouchWiz Nature UX. The year was 2012 and the S III was the launchpad for the now signature Samsung water-ripple effect and similarly ‘organic’ system sounds. The new features it brought included eye-tracking with Smart Stay that turns off the display when you don’t look at it.
Then, the Galaxy S4
included only slight modifications to the Nature UX base Samsung set with the S III. Samsung unveiled the S4 with much fanfare in New York City’s iconic Radio City Hall, and TouchWiz was all about new eye-tracking and motion sensing features.
Finally, we reach the current time where the Galaxy S5
reigns supreme with its refreshed TouchWiz Nature UX 3.0, a hugely evolved skin that stakes keeps the Nature base, but adds elements from Tizen to mix the two design languages. Here is how that evolution of TouchWiz happened throughout the years, all through the lens of Galaxy S series smartphones.
The home screen
The TouchWiz user interface starts with the home screen, where Samsung has always supported many home panels, while stock Android had stricter limitations for their number. You can see how big of a change to the overall looks of TouchWiz arrived the Nature UX and the Galaxy S III. Samsung overhauled the iconography, changed the way widgets look, and adopted new and more appealing fonts. Until then, we're witnessing a more gradual evolution.
The app drawer
The app drawer looked like one seriously boring place in the original Galaxy S and the Galaxy S II with its black/dimmed background. Nature UX brought a big change that you can first see in the Galaxy S III, a phone that looks much more cheerful and is actually the first to get rid of the frozen bottom row of icons in the app drawer.
Not just that, the Nature UX also adopted a new way to show widgets - right in the app drawer. Samsung has now rethought this and widgets in the Galaxy S5 are accessible via a long press on the home screen, but not from the app drawer. Here, it is clearer how Samsung seems to be making bigger changes to TouchWiz every two years: first in the S III, and then now, in the S5.
Until the Galaxy S III arrived, the notification dropdown was not a cheerful place to be either with its black and grey color accents, and raw, utilitarian fonts. The S III changes that and brings a handy brightness adjustment slider right below the toggles at the top. With the Galaxy S5, another huge change occurs - the toggles have been completely redesigned, taking clues from the dual-tone design of Samsung's Tizen OS.
Samsung has always stood out with a camera app that is rich in manual settings, without putting them too much in your face, and that makes it suitable for both enthusiasts who'd prefer to just point and shoot, as well as for enthusiasts who want manual settings.
Interestingly, the camera app evolved differently than the rest of the TouchWiz interface, and all first three Galaxy S smartphones were pretty much alike in terms of camera layout - on the right were the capture buttons and on the left - a list of settings.
The original Galaxy S still, however, lacked in finer settings. It was the Galaxy S II that significantly increased the number of manual settings and adopted an easy 1-tap access to many of them. However, it still lacked HDR shooting mode, something that seems essential to a camera app nowadays. This changed only in the Galaxy S III, the first Samsung phone to get support for HDR images in the stock camera app.
The big change, however, arrived with the Galaxy S4 that adopted the interface from Samsung's point-and-shoot cameras, and it's shooting modes in particular. This rich variety in shooting modes was something that provides a little more flexibility for users without forcing them to manually set things like ISO, exposures, and so on. Moreover, the S4 also added slow-motion and stop-motion shooting modes that can add a lot of creativity to video recordings.
The Galaxy S5's version of TouchWiz built up on that base, adding new features like selective focus after shots, and also changed the capture icons to round ones. It has also brought back the interface that Samsung used back in the S II with easy, one-tap access to manual settings.
Moreover, with the S5, for the first time, you can download addition custom shooting modes, developed by others.
Typing: the keyboard experience
At first look, the keyboard on TouchWiz has not changed all that much from its early days, but look at a bit more depth and you'd see that evolution has certainly not bypassed it. First, with the Galaxy S II, the TouchWiz keyboard got gesture typing support, and two years later, in the Galaxy S4, Samsung added a fifth row with the numbers on top.
Phonebook: all your contacts
We conclude our look at the evolution of TouchWiz with the phone book that has also grown more streamlined and better optimized throughout the years. You can see how Samsung gradually improved it by first adding search in the Galaxy S II, and then blurred the lines between contacts for more pleasing looks in the S5.
All in all, as all things, TouchWiz has undergone a pretty remarkable evolution since its mass-market debut in 2010 with the original Galaxy S. Now, it's become a skin that incorporates plentiful features and design cues, melding Tizen aesthetics with the signature TouchWiz look.
How do you like this new fusion and TouchWiz in general?